Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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In 2011-2012, Godofsky was a doctor at a “pill mill,” the Central Kentucky Bariatric and Pain Management clinic. The clinic accepted payment by only cash (later by debit card), at $300 for the first visit and $250 per visit thereafter, and did not give change. The clinic had thousands of dollars in cash on hand every day, so the manager was armed with a handgun and patrolled the clinic with a German Shepherd. The clinic scheduled multiple “patients” at the same time, every 15 minutes, and was often open until after 10:00 p.m. The clinic received hundreds of “patients” per day, many of whom had traveled long distances and waited for hours for a few minutes with a doctor who would then provide a prescription for a large amount of opioids, usually oxycodone. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Godofsky’s conviction for prescribing controlled substances, 21 U.S.C. 841(a), and the below-guidelines 60-month prison term and $500,000 fine, upholding the trial court’s refusal to use a jury instruction titled “Good Faith,” which would have instructed the jurors that his “good intentions” were enough for his acquittal or, rather, that the prosecutor had to prove that he had not personally, subjectively, believed that the oxycodone prescriptions would benefit his patients. View "United States v. Godofsky" on Justia Law

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An undercover FBI agent, posing as a mother, posted a Craigslist ad, indicating that she wanted to talk about “taboo” subjects with an “open-minded” counterpart. Fortner sent the agent an e-mail asking if he could have sex with her children. Fortner and two officers communicated regularly for several weeks. He sent them links to child pornography and asked graphic questions about what he could do with their children. Fortner also requested photographs of one officer’s child. The officer sent a photo of her undercover persona instead. Fortner and one officer agreed to meet. If the introductions went well, the officer promised, Fortner could take things further. At a restaurant, the officer and Fortner discussed his two prior child sex abuse convictions and what he could do with the officer’s child. The officer arrested him. The government charged Fortner with attempting to coerce a minor and committing a felony offense involving a minor while required to register as a sex offender, 18 U.S.C. 2422(b), 2260A. Fortner moved to dismiss the second count, arguing that he did not commit an offense involving a minor because the children he sought to coerce were not real. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of that motion. A sex offender commits an “offense involving a minor” if, in the course of a sting operation, he attempts to commit a sex crime with a pretend child. View "United States v. Fortner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2002, Beamus was convicted of conspiracy to possess 6.68 grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(B), and related firearms offenses, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), 924(c)(1)(A)(i). He had prior convictions, ranging from misdemeanor unauthorized use of a motor vehicle to felony first-degree manslaughter, with many more in between. The judge imposed a 420-month sentence: 360 months for conspiracy to possess crack cocaine and 60 months for another related firearm offense, to be served consecutively, as required by statute. Since his conviction, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 modified the statutory range for crack cocaine convictions and there was a Guidelines reduction. Beamus moved for resentencing under the First Step Act of 2018. The district court held that his career-offender status under the Sentencing Guidelines made him ineligible. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Beamus was convicted of an offense for which the Fair Sentencing Act modified the statutory penalty, and he has not received a reduction in accordance with that Act or lost such a motion on the merits. The First Step Act contains no freestanding exception for career offenders. It makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act’s changes to the statutory range for crack cocaine offenses. View "United States v. Beamus" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Nichols admitted that he had sexually abused young girls on multiple occasions and sometimes documented the abuse in videos and photographs; videos and photographs in his possession depicted graphic scenes of adult men sexually abusing children as young as toddlers. Nichols pled guilty to receipt and possession of child pornography. The district court enhanced his sentence because some of his victims were “vulnerable,” U.S.S.G. 3A1.1(b)(1). If 3A1.1(b) did not apply, his guidelines range would be 210-262 months rather than 262-327 months. The court rejected Nichols’s argument that he also possessed material depicting “sexual abuse or exploitation of an infant or toddler,” U.S.S.G. 2G2.2(b)(4)(B), and that the commentary provides that “[i]f subsection (b)(4)(B) applies,” a court should not apply 3A1.1(b). The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Where multiple enhancements appear equally applicable, a court should use only the enhancement that “results in the greater offense level.” That is what the district court did, finding that Nichols possessed images depicting sadistic conduct as well as images depicting the sexual abuse of toddlers. View "United States v. Nichols" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Officer Nelson learned from Heard, who was previously unknown to Nelson, that Crawford was dealing cocaine. Heard identified Crawford’s driver’s license photograph and provided Crawford’s telephone number. Nelson contacted the Drug Abuse Reduction Task Force and the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition Task Force; both confirmed Heard’s reliability as an informant. Nelson reviewed Crawford’s drug-trafficking convictions. Heard showed Nelson text messages between Crawford and Heard. Nelson obtained a state court warrant to electronically track Crawford’s cellphone. Heard told Nelson that Crawford drove a silver 2003 BMW X5 and, using the license plate number provided by Heard, Nelson learned that the vehicle was registered to Crawford at a Cincinnati residence. Cellphone data placed Crawford near a Florence, Kentucky apartment, leased to Crawford’s wife. Nelson surveilled the apartment. He saw Crawford exit the apartment and leave in the BMW. A warrant issued, authorizing officers to use GPS tracking on that vehicle. Weeks later, Heard completed a controlled drug buy from Crawford. Another search warrant was issued for Crawford’s apartment, where officers found cocaine and $1,390 in tagged bills used in the controlled buy. Mirandized, Crawford incriminated himself, admitting that he sold the cocaine on consignment and that he had placed cocaine under his sink. Crawford unsuccessfully argued that the warrants should not have issued. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Crawford’s convictions and 216-month sentence, finding the warrants justified. The informant’s reliability was confirmed by law enforcement agencies and through the affiant officer’s own research. Key information disclosed by the informant proved credible. View "United States v. Crawford" on Justia Law

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Wilson recruited people near Escanaba and taught them how to package, transport, price, and sell heroin and crack cocaine. One or two women would travel as passengers to pick up the drugs from Wilson and would conceal the drugs in their vaginal cavities until returning to the Upper Peninsula. The drugs were then removed and sold. Eventually, a member of the conspiracy went to the police with information. They set up controlled buys that confirmed the trafficking of drugs. Subsequent police raids turned up heroin and crack cocaine, cash, a drug ledger, cell phones, and MoneyGram receipts that listed who sent and received money. The police extracted the phones’ call logs and contact lists and obtained call records and subscriber information from the phone companies by subpoena. The phone records revealed a network of coconspirators, including Smith-Kilpatrick, Wilson, his mother, and two others. Wilson and another pleaded guilty. Smith-Kilpatrick and two others were convicted. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Smith-Kilpatrick’s conviction, rejecting arguments that the trial court made evidentiary errors; no rational jury could have convicted her based on the evidence, and her 96-month sentence was procedurally and substantively unreasonable. The court upheld the admission of records of phone calls and wire transfers, hotel records, and car rental documents and of out-of-court statements by co-conspirators. View "United States v. Smith-Kilpatrick" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Benton, a former schoolteacher, was convicted by a jury for having sex with a 12-year-old student. The judge sentenced her to 25-38 years’ imprisonment. With new appellate counsel, Benton raised constitutional and evidentiary arguments. Her conviction was affirmed. Months later, the Supreme Court handed down its “Lafler” decision, holding that defendants could establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel by proving that their lawyer’s incompetence caused them to reject a favorable plea offer. Benton sought postconviction relief, alleging that her attorney told her she had 20 minutes to decide whether to accept a plea offer: a year in jail for a guilty plea to a lesser charge. Her lawyer allegedly told Benton she would lose custody of her infant children. She rejected the deal. Benton claims she would have accepted the plea had the attorney conveyed that the termination of her parental rights would not be automatic. Benton’s appellate counsel offered to stipulate to his own ineffectiveness in not raising the argument. Michigan courts and the federal district court rejected her petitions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Benton has no good excuse for not timely raising her claim. Although Lafler was decided in 2012, Benton did not lack the tools to construct her claim in her 2011 appeal. View "Benton v. Brewer" on Justia Law

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Franklin County officers detected child pornography being downloaded via file-sharing software. They traced the downloads to Meckley's IP address. Meckley lived with Parrish. Parrish had a North Carolina conviction for “indecent liberties with children.” Days later, officers executed a warrant. Officers, wearing sidearms, asked Parrish to speak to them in their mobile forensic lab. Parrish agreed, told the agents he understood his Miranda rights, volunteered that he had nude pictures of his 12-year-old daughter on his cell phone, then surrendered the phone and its password. Parrish explained that he had discovered the videos on his daughter’s phone after she sent them to a man on Facebook, prompting Parrish to copy them to confront her. Parrish signed a consent form authorizing a search of his daughter’s phone. Forensic evidence confirmed that his daughter had sent the images on Facebook although Parrish had taken a separate inappropriate video of her. He had watched them repeatedly and had not confronted his daughter or her (custodial) grandparents. Convicted of receiving child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252, Parrish received a sentence of 180 months, the mandatory minimum for someone with a prior offense relating to “abusive sexual conduct involving a minor.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Even if the warrant technically did not permit a search of Parrish and the cell phone on him, the officers reasonably could have believed it did and Parrish consented to the seizure and search. The court rejected a constitutional challenge to the definition of “sexually explicit conduct” to include “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person,” View "United States v. Parrish" on Justia Law

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Richardson was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his wife by causing her to fall from a cliff in Pictured Rocks National Park in 2006. The district court denied a federal habeas petition that claimed prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel for failing to argue that a witness’s testimony was obtained as a result of an illegal, warrantless search. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Richardson failed to demonstrate that the Michigan Court of Appeals’ rejection of his claims was objectively unreasonable based on Supreme Court precedent. The prosecutor’s reference to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the context of explaining circumstantial evidence and his references to two notorious murders were unnecessarily provocative but did not so infect the trial as to violate Richardson’s due process rights. Although the prosecutor did elicit testimony that Richardson had called his attorney, the purpose of the questioning was to elicit testimony concerning Richardson’s consciousness of guilt. The court also rejected claims based on the prosecutor’s presentation of “overwhelming evidence” of Richardson’s bad character, denigration of defense counsel and witnesses, and allegedly improper objections. Even if Richardson could demonstrate that his counsel was deficient for failing to make an argument that may have been futile at the time of his trial, he cannot demonstrate that he was prejudiced by counsel’s performance. View "Richardson v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Flack pled guilty to receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252A and was sentenced to 262 months’ imprisonment, the bottom of his Guidelines range. A year later, Flack unsuccessfully moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that his counsel had been ineffective. The Sixth Circuit held that Flack’s counsel had been ineffective for failing to argue that Flack’s convictions for both receipt and possession of the same child pornography violated the Double Jeopardy Clause. The court issued a “general remand,” with instructions to the district court to vacate one of the convictions. The order stated that, if the district court vacated Flack’s possession conviction, then “resentencing is not necessary” because his Guidelines range would remain the same. On remand, the district court vacated Flack’s possession conviction and imposed the same sentence of 262 months’ imprisonment. In its order, the court said it “need not conduct a resentencing hearing” because its previous sentence “properly account[ed]” for the sentencing factors listed in 18 U.S.C. 3553. The Sixth Circuit then vacated, acknowledging that it had “invited” the error. A resentencing pursuant to section 2255 must be conducted during a sentencing hearing. View "United States v. Flack" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law